12/04/2011 (17 days to go)

With the details finally announced, AFP finally receives the list of positions that will be available to us on the day of the Royal Wedding. With so much planning already in place (despite a total lack of actual knowledge on where we’d be), it’s a relief to find that we’ve got a decent selection of the best views of the day. While shooting a rather poor feature on the RAF’s band rehearsing their fanfare, I receive a call from the boss, telling me I’ve drawn the pressure point; the Queen Victoria Memorial (AKA The Kiss). Crikey. Now that I know where I’ll be, I can begin planning what I need.

My first call is to the lovely people at 3leggedthing, the new tripod and camera support manufacturers that have produced some truly innovative gear since launching in early 2011. Having contacted me a while ago to see if there was any gear that I’d like to try, I finally have an actual assignment that requires some serious stability. Having already discovered that the balcony shot is a VERY long range picture (or “throw”), I already know that to capture the kiss, I’ll need at least a 600mm lens with the possibility that I’ll need to use magnifying converters too. The problem is that to capture the kiss, I need to be tight but what if something important happens among the other members of the Royal family as they stand there? The conclusion I’ve reached is that I need two cameras with long lenses, mounted on the same tripod. Now I’ve seen this done before with shorter lenses, but can I get the hardware that can support such a vast weight of metal and glass and keep it rock-solid?

13/04/2011 (16 days to go)

Into the office for a team meeting to discuss the details of what we know and what we need to know; a true “known knowns and known unknowns” moment. General consensus is that while the other guys will have chance to move around a little before the main event and possibly shoot some features, I’m going to be welded to my position for the day. Aside from the kiss, the couple will return to the Palace past my position before the balcony family picture. There is an RAF fly past plus the newlyweds will be heading out to Clarence House in the evening for a reception party.

One of the issues that we’re expecting to run into is communications. With millions of spectators lining the streets, it’s pretty certain that the phone networks will buckle under the pressure so we’ll be hiring short-wave radios for the day. The only concern being the range and as they’ll only get to us on the 28th, there’ll be no time for tests.

Equipment-wise, the chaps at 3leggedthing have been stress-testing their hardware and are flying one of their global prototypes back into the country for me to use. This heavy-duty tripod should be able to take the weight and allow my unusual requirements to be met.

Having considered the logistics of using two cameras, I’m now thinking that a better way to ensure I don’t miss anything is to fire one of the cameras remotely; as I shoot the picture using the longer lens, the wider lensed camera also fires. It’s another thing that could go wrong but it’s also a way of guaranteeing that I don’t miss anything while shooting on the other body. My current thoughts are to use a 600mm f4 on one side and a 300mm f2.8 on the other (for the family shot).

14/04/2011 (15 days to go)

The Royals will have to struggle along on their own as it’s my birthday, and I refuse to think about it for the next few days.

18/04/2011 (11 days to go)

Back to work and the planning continues. Today’s discussions focus on remote camera triggers and the use of foot switches to avoid any interference from other photographer’s radio signals. Hard wiring seems to be the way to go, so lengths of cable are purchased and foot switches ordered. For some of the positions on the route, the photographer will feel like a one-man band as he shoots with hands and feet. At the moment, I plan on just sticking with the two cameras, although that may change if I can work out a way to get a wide angle too.

The wedding still remains a staple ingredient of every photographer’s conversation when bumping into colleagues on jobs. Aside from the question of positions, more specific questions have begun to crop up such as; “Are faster memory cards worth buying?” (yes) and “Can I use a stepladder from the crowd?” (no).

19/04/2011 (10 days to go)

With a quiet afternoon, I get the chance to head down to the Palace and test both the angle of the sun and the lens possibilities. With only ten days left, security is getting tighter with search teams checking drains and scaffolding and media crews beginning to spend more time outside the Palace and the Abbey.

My options for the day are all based around the Nikon 600mm f4 but the options lay with camera body choice (D3s, D3x or D300s) and whether to use a lens converter (Nikon 1.4x, 1.7x of 2x). With too many options bouncing around inside my head, I leap in a taxi and head down to the QVM. Having tested the D300s and the D3s, I can discount the D300s due to the slow frame-rate and small buffer but won’t know about the D3x until Paris decide whether to send me one over. The shot seems to be alright on a 1.4x or a 2x converter but there’s no way I can truly simulate the day itself, as I won’t know what factors are at play. A wet overcast day will need very different gear to a bright sunny one and the added threat of the dreaded heat haze is ever present. A colleague informs me that he’s shot the Trooping the Colour for many years and has only ever managed to get truly sharp pictures once due to the heat coming from the crowds below. The heat rises and causes a distortion that plays havoc with long lenses. This task becomes more challenging on a daily basis.

20/04/2011 (9 days to go)

Aside from thinking about the kiss, the ravenous news beast requires a healthy portion of wedding feature every day, so this morning I’m sent to Wellington Barracks. A blog on this visit can be found here.

21/04/2011 (8 days to go)

With the wedding just over a week away, any job involving the Royal family is of great interest, so I’m sent to Westminster Abbey to cover the Royal Maundy Service which coincidentally falls on the Queen’s birthday. With the vaguest possibility that William or Katherine may turn up, a healthy turn-out of photographers are on show but in the end, it’s “only” Brenda and Phil that rock up, so more fun is had with the traditional pageantry than the actual Royals.

22/04/2011 (7 days to go)

Huzzah! The day begins with a front pages of The Times and the Washington Post newspapers, plus the LA Times framework website front page. I’ve had a serious drought recently, so it’s very much appreciated to get some covers again.

With the rest of the country savouring the start of their long weekend (and if they played their cards right, an 11 day break), colleague Carl de Souza and myself join Picture Editor Alessandro Abbonizio on a final walk-through of the wedding route. London is soaked in tourists at the moment, all bumping into each other and following umbrella-wielding tour guides. It has to be said that it’s a real pleasure to see the Capital festooned in Union flags and, for once, be able to enjoy it for what it is rather than it being tied into some far-Right march or protest. Coffee shops are handing out Union flag coffee cups, pubs have bunting in their beer gardens and everywhere you look, there are happy symbols of patriotism and enjoyment. Any overseas readers may be scratching their heads at this and wondering what the big deal is but the combination of the British desire to remain understated, and the hijacking of patriotism by right wing groups has created a population that distances itself from it’s own colours. Like Godzilla, it’s taken the Royals to emerge from their slumber and take back the icon, allowing us to celebrate our nationality for once.

With the hike over, I return to AFP Towers to piece together the 3leggedthing behemoth and test if it’s up to the job. Using the 3LT X3 “Jimmy” carbon fibre tripod with D91 and D93 gimbles, a B3s ballhead and a cross bar, the beast was born. Combined with a pocket wizard trigger firing the second camera, the system manages to hold a HELL of a lot of weight. Considering that the tripod is so light, it manages to support about £20,000+ of very heavy gear and remain stable. As it’s designed for a lot less weight, this will need some testing and I’ve already had to adapt a few ideas to remove small amounts of movement.

After a bit of head scratching, I got the pocket wizard firing the second camera remotely, so I think I might actually be getting somewhere!

23/04/2011 (6 days to go)

Three of today’s papers are giving away Royal Wedding bunting. With all of the other flags and assorted paraphernalia being printed, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of red, white and blue loads for the recycling collectors next week.

Another day, another wander along the route with an emphasis today on tourism and royalists. With the beautiful weather and no particular plans, I get the chance to shoot another webclip as I meander.

One of my favourite discoveries of the day is a street performer on the South Bank, dressed as Queen Elizabeth II. After dropping a few frames and a bit of video, she takes her mask off for a breather and it turns out to be a middle-aged Eastern European woman. Maybe those conspiracy theorists are right about the Illuminati after all.

24/04/2011 (5 days to go)

Despite it being a day off, I suggest a jaunt into town to Kirsten so we take Max off to see the sights and act like tourists for the day. It’s a beautiful day so we start at Buckingham Palace and I bore her to tears with tedious information about where we’re all positioned and what we can see from each position as we walk back to Westminster Abbey. Kirsten acts suitably interested and impressed.

27/04/2011 (2 days to go)

Westminster Abbey has begun to look like it’s besieged by a patriotic army of “special” fans. The upsides to this is that both the media and the police know exactly where to find all of the rather more passionate supporters. The area has become a feeding ground now with all of us sent to get yet more features surrounding the mass of flags and gaudy merchandise.

28/04/2011 (1 day to go)

With the Royal wedding now upon us, today really needs to be a short and quiet day, so that we can get through it with no hiccups and get a good night’s sleep. Instead, the rumour of Kate and Will’s wedding rehearsal in Westminster Abbey proves to be true. Within minutes, AFP sends out the team and we each find ourselves covering a random door, gate or passageway in the hope that we can get them on one of the entrances. I find myself on a back door and wait. And wait. And wait. You can see from the lack of pictures which door they DIDN’T go through. With the time close to 10pm, I finally head home and begin to prepare myself for tomorrow’s big day. It’s finally here.


9 Responses to “The Royal countdown begins…”

  1. I love reading these blog posts, hun. x

    Posted by kirsten
  2. Happy belated birthday.
    Great insight into how you guys prepare. This kind of thing is appreciated. Your camera set up seems more akin to NASA science than snatch a shot of a, I mean, the kiss.
    And well done (I’ve seen the results already).

    Posted by Nic
  3. These are FANTASTIC Leon!!! Really great photos! I especially love the one of Buckingham palace with the marching soldiers in front! Great great work! :)

    Posted by Fanni
  4. The most interesting ‘background’ article i’ve read yet on the wedding, top quality work young man!
    (oh, and happy birthday too, better late than never i guess!)

    Posted by Keith Last
  5. Fascinating as usual! I actually appreciate the additional info on this post about the equipment, the incredible difficulties in getting sharp photos (crowds of people generating heat to screw up a photo?!), and all that kind of stuff. Thanks for all this!

    Posted by Prashant
  6. Great blog, Leon. Really fascinating stuff. Us non-pros don’t know the half of it, do we? :o)

    Posted by Beth
  7. Great review buddy! 3leggedthing let you keep the toys they sent? Interesting setup, could do with one of those and mounting 10 D3s’ and creating a huge pano shot…

    Posted by paper trousers
  8. Amazing the amount of preparation in getting one photo. Really interesting as usual.

    Posted by Karen
  9. Great work! The royals are lucky to have you as a photographer :)

    Posted by Andrew S

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